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$4 Carburetor Synchronizer

Since joining the Airheads shortly after purchasing my first-ever Beemer in October of 2001, I’ve found the AirList to be an invaluable source of information and direct feedback as I learn my way around my new 1984 R100RS. One of the first things I do when acquainting myself with a new mount is a basic tune-up. Lurking on the Airlist provided a bunch of helpful tips to supplement (and correct) the tune-up info in the Haynes and Clymer manuals.

One of the slickest tune-up tips I came across was Tom Rowe’s mention of a ridiculously cheap and easy-to-build differential manometer (vacuum gauge) for balancing carburetors on vacuum port equipped Boxers. I’d read about the Twin-Max (aprx. $80) and have used the $40 CarbStix on my 4-cylinder Hondas, but for less than $4, I was able to build a twin carb synchronizer that is 16 times more sensitive than my mercury vacuum gauges and can be assembled from common materials available at almost any hardware store. I built it and my R100RS loved it – it really smoothed out some bands of footpeg/bar/mirror vibration that the bike had, even after using the CarbStix.

I posted a ‘Thank You’ note for the idea on the AirList after I tried it and got even more valuable feedback from Jay Carpenter and a request from John “Beetle” Mailleue, ABC# 5657 to write a tech article for the AirMail. After spending some more time in the garage incorporating Jay Carpenter’s ideas, I figured I’d go ahead and write-up a description of how to build and use the $4 Carb Synchronizer, because it REALLY works. Super cheap, super accurate, super easy to build and super easy to use – CLASSIC Airhead technology!

Credit for the original idea has to go to Marty Ignazito of the powered-parachute crowd, he came up with the idea to balance the twin Bings on a two-stroke Rotax and his original write-up is at If you try this idea and like it, send Marty a thank-you e-mail at

Here’s the Materials List for the $4 Carb Synchronizer Tool:

20 feet of clear plastic (vinyl) tubing – inside diameter big enough to slip on the vacuum nipple of your carb (3/16″ i.d. worked for my bike, but it’s tight, maybe 1/4″ i.d. might be better). 15 cents per foot in the plumbing section at my local ‘big box’ hardware store, Sutherlands.
A yard stick – Home Depot sells an aluminum yardstick for under $2, but you can make a perfectly satisfactory gauge with a 3-foot piece of 1″ wooden lathe for next-to-nothing. (For a ‘professional’-looking gauge, I actually used a yellow aluminum 4-foot rule, but that was wretched excess at $5.)
3M/Scotch/Whatever – clear mailing/packaging tape. You should have some of this left over from the Christmas mailing season; otherwise around a $1 a small roll (and you won’t need much).
2 short nylon zip-ties – You should have these in your garage. If not, buy them in bulk for cheap in the wiring section of Home Depot, Sutherlands, Ace Hardware, etc. – you’ll use them and wonder why you didn’t have them before.
A tiny amount of automatic transmission fluid – Actually, just about any fluid works, including used motor oil, colored water, 2-stroke oil, etc. I chose ATF because I already had a gallon of it and (most important) it is really thin and is RED (which looks WAY cool as the indicator fluid against my fancy yellow ruler) and ATF won’t hurt the engine if it accidentally gets sucked in the carb’s vacuum port.   (ed. note: 90W Tranny fluid works well and because it’s thicker – it’s less likely to get sucked into the carb.)

Building the Balancer

Fold your 20′ of vinyl tubing in half and mark the center point. Lay your yardstick down flat on a convenient work surface (kitchen table or floor). Place the center point of the tubing at the bottom end of your yardstick (there is generally a hole at the top end of the yardstick – put the center-bend of your vinyl tubing at the opposite end of the yardstick from that hole). Carefully run the tubing up each side of the yardstick, making sure that the tubing makes a smooth, non-kinked bend at the bottom.

Use the clear packing/mailing tape to fasten the tubing in place on either side ( left and right ) of the yardstick. Thread the zip-ties through the hole at the top of the yardstick and snug the left and right side tubing to the respective sides of the ‘stick with the zip-ties. You should now be able to hang your yardstick from the hole in the top ( I use a bungee suspended from a hook in the garage ceiling). The tubing runs around the perimeter of the yardstick and about seven feet of tubing hangs down from the left and right sides of the ‘stick. I fold a piece of tape around each end of the tubing like a little flag and mark the left side with an “L” and the right side with an “R” using a magic marker.

Now, put one side of the tubing in the container of automatic transmission fluid and, using the other side of the tubing like a drinking straw, suck ATF fluid about three feet up into the tubing. Maintaining suction for a second, pull the tubing out of the ATF container and then raise BOTH ends of the tubing above the top of the yard stick. Temporarily fasten both ends of the tubing high enough that the ATF drains down to the loop at the bottom of the yardstick. I recommend leaving it overnight so that all the bubbles, etc. work their way out.

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Synchronizing Carburetors

The following information specifically applies to carbureted twin cylinder two-valve BMWs, of the type known as “Airheads”, as manufactured 12/1969->1995+. Some of the information may be applicable to many other motorcycles, and even injected models, and to even single cylinder and two stroke engines.  The method is applicable to BMW models before the above dates, and while the shorting method works for ALL, you CAN use the vacuum methods for those earlier models with, or install, vacuum ports.The author has used these methods on a wide variety of engines. The author is NOT responsible for any electrical shocks, nor other consequences, for any ineptness on your part in failing to understand and perform procedures properly and safely. 

Quite a few decades ago many mechanics used a device called a Uni-Syn to balance carburetors. It was usable on almost any carburetor, and it was usable on most injected models (rare, then). Sometimes a minor modification was needed to allow the Uni-Syn to properly mate with the input area. The Uni-Syn was a specially machined or cast metal plate, rubber on one side to allow some pressure-sealing against the air intake side of the carburetor or injector, and an ADJUSTABLE venturi built into the plate, and attached to the venturi was a glass or plastic tube that had a floating ball in it. Properly used, this device would take accurate relative readings of the airflow through a carburetor or injection intake; then the device was transferred to the other carburetor (usable on engines with many carburetors too). I do not know if they are still available, I have one, and treasure it, as an antique! Treasuring some old tool does NOT mean I use it nowadays!

I do not!  I have not seen one used, except in my own shop for some sports cars or 4 or 6 cylinder motorcycles, since the mid-1970’s, except to demonstrate its use. Mechanics had a lot of pride on their ability, without instruments, to listen to the engine; adjusting the idle mixture screw for a smooth idle, then setting idle rpm, and going back and forth until they ended up with the proper idle rpm and idle mixture adjustment. Some very experienced mechanics would even take bets on being able to synchronize a BMW Airhead engine without any special tools….and often made up stories about what they were doing….which, in truth was simply listening to the transmission internals rattling around at idle rpm (which they do, when the oil is hot). The throttle cables were synchronized by eyeball on lifting at the same time, and sometimes by transmission rattle.   These methods are not good with multiple cylinder engines such as a V-6 or V-8 or inline 4, particularly those engines with more than two carburetors.  The method is tricky to do with a BMW airhead boxer engine, and I do NOT recommend it.  It is also NOT EVER as accurate as the vacuum nor shorting methods.

The primary method on the /2 bikes was to adjust the carburetor throttle stops for equal engine speed with first one plug cap, then the other, removed; you alternated between cylinders firing and not firing, back and forth. This was USUALLY safe on those magneto equipped /2 bikes because the magneto incorporated a safety gap, if the plug cap was pulled off the spark plug, the spark could jump across the safety gap. UNfortunately, sometimes the metal cap shell would give you an electric shock.  This ‘lifting the cap’ method is still used today on the /2 bikes; although the shorting method is MUCH better.

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